How to Sew Perfect Ruffles and Gather Fabric

Mother sewing daughters ruffle skirt
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Ruffles and gathers have many different applications when you are sewing. Whether you're making a ruffled pillow, adding ruffles to a straight curtain or adding a ruffle to the hem of a child's dress, having an even, full gather is essential.

A ruffle that does not have enough fullness will end up looking skimpy and as if it has tucks rather then evenly spaced gathers. Gathers do not have folds of fabric mixed with flat fabric.

Ruffle Width

Choosing a width is the first decision you'll need to make when making a ruffle. The fabric you'll be using will play a part in your decision. You'll want to find a fabric that's sturdy enough to stay semi-rigid with one layer, but some thinner fabrics can work if you apply two layers and possibly interfacing. Another factor to consider when deciding between one or two layers is if the back side of the ruffle needs to be as appealing as the front.

The size of the item you are adding a ruffle to will also aid your ruffle width decision. A size 12-month dress may only require a 1inch wide ruffle, while a size 6, may look better with an 8 inch wide ruffle. A 14 inch pillow may look fine with a 1.5 inch ruffle, but that same ruffle may look lost on a 24 inch pillow. The width of the ruffle needs to compliment the item it's attached to.

The Width of a Single Layer Ruffle

Once you've decided on the width of the finished ruffle, you'll need to add seam allowance and hem allowances.

For example, If you want to add a 4 inch wide ruffle to your daughter's dress:

  • You plan on adding the ruffle using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.
  • You plan a 1/4 inch baby hem. You'll need a 1/2 inch allowance to achieve this.
  • The formula for this example would be, 4 inches plus 1/2 plus 1/2 inch for a total need of a 5 inch wide strip of fabric.
  • Always finish the hemmed edge before you gather the other edge.

The Width of a Double Layer Ruffle & Preparation

In some cases, you may want the correct side of the fabric to show on both edges of your ruffle, as on the edge of a pillow. You'll need to allow fabric that is double the finished width of the ruffle and the seam allowances.

For example, if you want to add a 3 inch double-sided ruffle to a pillow, you would plan as follows:

  • You determine you need a 1/2 inch seam.
  • You'll need 3 inches plus 1/2 inch for each side of the ruffle.
  • Since you are making a two-sided ruffle, you'll need to double the 3 1/2 inches and cut a 7 inch wide strip.

Preparation of a Double Layer Ruffle

After you have joined strips to the desired length, fold the strip in half lengthwise and press the fold. In most cases, it is best to baste the raw edges and apply a zigzag or serged edge to prevent the raw edge of the fabric from fraying as you work with the strip and gather it. A doubled ruffle is gathered as if it were one piece, working both layers of the gather together as you evenly space the ruffles.

Deciding the Length of the Ruffle Fabric

The more fullness a ruffle has, the richer your finished item will appear. You'll need to make a ruffle that's 2 to 3 times the length than the area to which you're attaching it. Allowing 2.5 times will usually give you a desirable ruffle, but 3 times is best practice just to be sure. A very heavy fabric may require less length. A very thin fabric may require more length.

  • Measure the distance around the edge of what you are attaching the ruffle to.
  • Multiply that measurement to allow the desired fullness. For example; if the distance around the hem of a little girl dress is 40 inches, you'll need 100 inches (40 inches times 2.5) or 120 inches (40 inches times 3) of fabric to ruffle.

Marking and Attaching Gathered Fabric

To achieve an evenly placed gather, divide your gather and the area you'll be attaching it to in at least four even sections.

For example, if the area you'll be attaching the ruffle to is 100 inches around, make a mark or insert a straight pin every 25 inches. The easiest way to mark the ruffle is to fold it in half and then in half again—making a mark or inserting a straight pin at the folds.

Sew the ruffle to the garment or pillow edge by using the gathering method of your choice. Pin the ruffle and the area you are attaching it to at these marks. Tug your threads and smooth the ruffle to evenly fill the area.